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What Employers Can Do and What Employees Can Ask For

What Employers Can Do and What Employees Can Ask For

Why are so many employers hesitant to initiate corporate wellness programs? Some are uncertain of what corporate wellness even means. Mok Lan Ho, Director of Benefits of the Total Compensation Group at Scotiabank, believes that employers often struggle with the concept of wellness. “Many companies face the challenge of determining what wellness means to the organization and within its cultural environment. Most define wellness in the form of activities and events.”

Given that corporate wellness has been conventionally viewed as a soft item or issue, many employers are dubious about making such a large commitment and investment of their resources.

Rob Weingust, a former events and meeting planner and founder of Spa Party Events, agrees that, historically, most companies have done some nice things for their employees, be it an annual holiday party, barbeque, or bonus; however, employers see these gestures and events as money thrown away. “They do these events because they have to, but there’s no result, no return for them,” he says.

A corporate wellness program, though, consists of more than a steak dinner and an office picnic. “’Wellness’ whether at the personal or organizational level is a long-term response and commitment, not a one-time event,” explains Ho. “Intuitively, we know that ‘wellness’ and a healthy workforce make good business sense, but certain fundamentals are crucial first steps. For example, identifying key wellness needs relevant to the organization; defining a framework including metrics to guide supporting activities, policies and practices that align consistently toward targeted objectives.”

A Wellness Guru Perspective

Dr. Alexandra Gellman, founder of Guru and Associates Wellness Inc., uses a four-point approach in establishing comprehensive wellness. Here’s a brief look at her ‘Four Pillars of Life’:

  • Pillar #1 – Physical: This includes diet and exercise. “I see how diet affects performance every day. And if you have no energy, you actually feel depressed, out of sorts, unmotivated. Would you go anywhere if your car didn’t have gas? How many people do not eat breakfast? The majority of the world. Then they’re starving at work and they get a donut or muffin and a coffee. Make breakfast.” As for exercise, “make it part of your life.”
  • Pillar #2 – Life Passion: “I worked as a director of sales and marketing in hotels for ten years and disconnected from my life passion. So many of us completely disconnect from our hobbies when we go into our work… and our families and family life consume us. How many people really have a healthy life balance? If you don’t have life balance, you’re headed for disaster. It’s vital for you to have your own identity, rather than making your job or your family your identity.”
  • Pillar #3 – Positive emotional responses to life’s challenges: “Stuff is going to happen everyday. Clients are going to get ticked off. The subway is going to break down. Your car might not start. Stuff happens. You can catastrophize it and be upset about it for three weeks or you can see it for what it is and move forward. I teach people how to respond in a healthy and positive way to the challenges of life.”
  • Pillar #4 – Peace of mind: “Technically, this is the spiritual connection, but corporations aren’t comfortable with the word ‘spiritual.’ This is a very individual thing – what brings you peace of mind? Is it having a bubble bath? Meditating? Going to church? Yoga? Reading a book? It’s about finding peace within yourself and taking that quiet time to be with yourself at peace. There’s no right or wrong – it’s whatever is right for you.”

Scotiabank’s Wellness Strategy

As one of Canada’s Top 50 Employers for the third consecutive year, Scotiabank adopted a strategic approach to wellness in 2004. As Mok Lan Ho explains, the company recognized that wellness must be a consistent and long-term focus, going beyond the regular wellness-related activities and campaigns. Thus, it created a ‘wellness framework’ premised on integration of healthcare providers’ service, leadership and targeted communication. This framework guides and validates the company’s ongoing wellness initiatives, advocating prevention and continuum of care philosophy. The company also places great importance in providing career growth and development opportunities, which is evidenced in its employee tenure, well above the norm.

Wellness elements incorporated in Scotiabank’s program include:

  • EAPs (employee assistance program)
  • Work-life solutions and support services – healthy lifestyle services which support the needs of employees at different stages in their life (nutrition management, career planning, new mothers, dependent care, resilience coaching)
  • Lunch-and-learns
  • Negotiated discounts for external social programs include fitness clubs
  • Workplace policies and programs that assist employees to manage their work-life needs (such as flexibility in work arrangements)

GoodLife Fitness: A Small Step Can Mean Big Savings

Michael Boyce, VP of Corporate and Business Development at GoodLife Fitness, helps companies outsource corporate fitness, allowing employees to go outside an office setting to complete their fitness goals and objectives.

Only 14-15% of the Canadian population works out regularly at a fitness facility – a strikingly low number. When corporations get involved in a fitness program, however, they can double that number. “A corporation, by supporting, sponsoring and getting involved with a club like ours can bring that 15% up to 30%,” he explains. “So, for example, take company ABC with 300 employees. It would have 15% of its staff (45 employees) working out regularly, saving the company already $30,000 a year in sick days and productivity. By partnering with us, ABC increases the number of employees working out to 30% (90 employees now). The company then saves another $30,000 a year over and above that. That’s almost a 115% increase in savings for that organization.”

That said, Boyce is quick to point out that 70% of the employee population still hasn’t been addressed. “There are so many issues that companies are struggling with,” he says, “everything from diabetes and depression to people off with back injuries and then some of the soft, intangible issues of productivity. So, the loss to corporate Canada in terms of employees not being at their peak for at least 6 out of every 8 hour day is in the billions. We can’t try to address these issues all at once, but we have to try to appeal to the majority of the employees as well – not just the 30% who will go work out. We have to offer some other things to get them on the road to a healthier lifestyle.”

With that in mind, GoodLife has taken a more comprehensive approach to wellness services. In addition to its gym memberships, the company offers partnering corporations services such as lunch-and-learn sessions with professional speakers, corporate challenges, health and wellness fairs, and most recently, stretch breaks which brings GoodLife trainers right to businesses, holding stretch classes for employees on-site.